A Bittersweet Day

January 14, 2009 at 9:19 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 4 Comments

I’ve known of this kid for almost three years.  For the first two and a half, he would just barrel by me, head down, hands in his pockets, and his hood up.  Then he got shot in the back.  After he got out of the hospital, he got serious about completing his community service for an old charge and getting into Job Corps to move out of state. 

I’m not sure at what point I realized that he came to see us literally every day.  Maybe in the summer.  But the weeks when we didn’t see him that much, he’d come in only three times.  He’d get another hospital bill and bring it directly to me.  He’d get a phone call from the Job Corps lady and come right over.  He once told me that he would never read out loud in front of anyone because he was too embarrassed when he stumbled over words.  Then it hit me that he’d read things in front of my coworker and I with no problem. 

In the fall, he got more and more stressed out over hospital bills and not hearing from Job Corps, so there were lots of days when he’d just sit silently in my office and I started panicking that they would’t accept him.  I started calling the Job Corps lady.  One day he came in happy because she had called him to say that Maine looked good for him.  And could he please tell me to stop leaving messages for her.

He finally got the call from Maine to say that he’d been accepted and he’d leave in January.  For the next month, my coworker and I spent at least an hour with him a day.  We’d Google the campus and “bother” him with reminders to buy woolies.  I made him pinky swear that there would be no Job Corps babies but we amended that Job Corps hoes would be okay.

Monday we loaded him up with presents (practical things like phone cards, lip balm, a mini pack of Rhode Island playing cards), went over his packing list, and made sure he had his bus info.  Of course, we decided to show up at the bus station Tuesday morning with breakfast sandwiches. 

In dealing with him, I seem to be channeling my own mother, neurotically asking the same questions over and over and generally acting like a mother hen.  As we stood outside getting ready to see him off, I started in on my litany of reminders.  My coworker asked him how annoying it was that he had to deal with his own birth mother as well as us, his two adopted mommies.  He said “I only wish youz (mumble, mumble) been there my whole life.”

This comment, coupled with the general feeling of empty space after his frequent presence, made both of us burst into tears periodically through the day. 

I can’t believe that, after so much work and patience, he’s finally gotten to go.  And I hope he doesn’t get too lonely and if he does, that he manages to work through it.  And I hope that his body heals and detoxes and appreciates the wild beauty of Maine without being frightened by so much open space.  I hope that he endears himself to everyone there as he has endeared himself to us.  And that he gets as fiercely protective of new people as he had gotten of me.  And that he takes advantage of this time investing in himself and come back to a welcoming job market. 

Who knew that I’d get a taste of the sadness and joy of sending my own child off on a new adventure without me from an incredibly tall, pissed off kid whose face is transformed by his dimpled smile.  Even if that smile comes from making fun of me.

The Best Tuesday Ever

December 7, 2008 at 1:26 pm | Posted in The Bucket, Working | Leave a comment

Last Tuesday, two of my Christmas wishes came true.

First, one of my favorite clients finally got word that he got into Job Corps in Maine after months of waiting.  He decided that he wanted to leave Rhode Island, but Job Corps asks that you make weekly phone calls to the in-state admissions counselor to show your continued interest.  We stayed on top of that, but it was taking so long that I started leaving voice mails for her.  Finally two weeks ago she called him to say that he didn’t get into the one in Massachusetts, but things looked good for Maine, and could he please tell that lady (that’d be me) to stop calling her.

And on Tuesday they called him from Maine to say that he was accepted.  And he’s going to Job Corps on an Air Force Base right on the border of Canada.  I tried to explain Maine to him, but I’m not sure he quite understands just how isolated it is.  He now spends a lot of time on Mapquest checking out the location.  He will literally be at the end of the road.

And then The Thing of Which We Must Not Speak came to pass.  The reason that we must not speak of this is because Rhode Island is so darn small that everyone and their mother knew that this Thing came to pass as of Wednesday morning.  Because my blogger’s cloak of anonymity is fairly half-assed, I can’t go on record to share my outright joy and glee that This Thing finally came to pass after a very long year.  But behind closed doors, we danced and jumped and screamed.   Work should now be more productive, transparent, and sane. 

Though watching Vanessa get eliminated as Paris Hilton’s New BFF was NOT one of my Xmas wishes, I got to see it happen with a bottle of champagne, my best friend, and her boyfriend.  The bubbles went to my head, and I spent an hour alternately hissing that everyone STFU so we could see the finale of Paris Hilton’s New BFF and screaming “Best Tuesday Everrrrrr” over and over. 

This is probably why I spent the day after The Best Tuesday Ever with a blinding headache, fielding phone calls from surprised Community Center stakeholders and funders, and breaking out into a little jig every once in a while.

Now we’ve got to spend quite a bit of time cleaning up the mess created before That Thing of Which We Must Not Speak happened.

That Special Christmas Feeling

November 29, 2008 at 7:39 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 5 Comments

I’m the type of person who keeps her feelings closely guarded.  My true feelings often come out in a stream of invective and swears and very rarely comes out in tears.  When I’m actually ready to share my feelings, it’s when I’ve managed to attain a level of removal.  Recounting events that made me feel deeply and sharing my emotions about such events becomes almost clinical.  In my evasion of all things real, I am truly at my WASPiest.

Which is why I’m so surprised at my talent for getting others who equally bury what they feel to spill their guts.  Especially those who pride themselves on presenting a “Fuck You” front to the whole world.  Kids who show their pit bull exterior to everyone start to roll over and show their puppy soft underbelly the moment my office door is closed.  My coworker and officemate like to play Good Cop, Bad Cop, but when the doors are closed, we suddenly turn into everyone’s Special Mommies.

I have been witness to the most amazing self-disclosures, some ridiculous and some sublime.  Who new that Woodlawn’s residents hard ass wants to become a CNA to “like help old people and slow people”?  I was certainly taken aback when another very masculine kid screamed “Yo, that’s my joint” and starting singing and dancing wildly to “I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.”  And I went home and cried after one kid who feels the need to check in daily put his head down and starting crying over what shit he thinks his life is. 

But one of the most recent confessions was part pathos and part pure innocent joy.  We had three dear fellows in our office, all ripping high and quite relaxed.  One was going through the ringtones on his new cell phone and playing them for us.  There was some country and western tune and I asked him how he managed to steal a cell phone from a redneck.  Then he came to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” and everyone thought it’d be great if that played every time his phone rang during the Xmas season. 

Another very high young man said, “Aw, I can’t wait until Christmas.  I just love it.” 

And I responded, “G-Black, I am just picturing you wearing footie pajamas and opening your stocking gifts.”

He said, “Naah, dawg, it ain’t even that.  I don’t even get presents like that.  I just love that special Christmas feeling.” 

His friends laughed out loud and half-heartedly tried to make fun for sharing that.  Then they started saying, “Yo, n***, I feel you on that.”  I tried to get them to commit to going carolling but they told me they’d get shot.  Then they launched into their favorite tough guy conversation of which brand of hot cocoa they prefer and whether little marshmellows or Fluff belong in the perfect cup.

So this comment of “that special Christmas feeling” has spurred us into action.  How shall we make Christmas special for this amazing group of people without being totally cheesy?  How can we celebrate this season with no money yet remind these boys that they are loved and honored?  And how do I remain open to new insights and be the receptacle for their relevations while never engaging in self-reflection?

I think that last question is key, and one of the reasons why I very rarely share of myself and therefore post infrequently.  I am only willing to share of myself through the medium of others. 

Regardless, I feel the excitement of Xmas joy and want to share it.  Most want to feel that joy through their small loved ones who still believe in Santa.  Yet for me, I want to bring that sense of abundance and joy to those who feel that this sense of abundance is reserved for others.

Oh Lordy, Here We Go Again

October 21, 2008 at 8:31 pm | Posted in The Bucket, Working | 1 Comment

What do the following have in common?:

  • a paper on the Burmese Python
  • a hysterical, crazy elderly volunteer
  • a “train” with a girl with a fat neck
  • a meeting about nothing
  • borderline sexual harassment about 7X
  • a mystery dude named Meatball
  • endless paperwork
  • “What’s Your Fantasy?” by Ludacris
  • Phish on MyTube
  • about 16 quarterly reports
  • a voice mail left for a detective
  • a frantic phone call from a funder
  • emails asking me for yet another calendar of events
  • 12 kids setting up for an annual meeting
  • yet another convo with that crazy lady whose daughter REALLY doesn’t want to get her GED
  • endless tallying of demographic information for 3 separate reports
  • fudging of said reports
  • faxing about seventy forms I had to fill out for the second time to the funder
  • fending off an eleven year old who really wants me to buy his candles
  • calling the Mayor’s office to make an appointment with a notary for both me and a client
  • questioning the sinister kid about the laptop (his story doesn’t match up)
  • escorting ten kids out of the building
  • preventing them from slipping back in
  • talking about some kid’s “pimp hand”

You got it! Just another typical Tuesday at work!

And ya wonder why I don’t have the energy to write about much else.  This shit is waaaaayyyyy too good.

Being Inspector Gadget

October 16, 2008 at 9:30 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 2 Comments

I was walking back from the corner store this evening with my head spinning but enjoying the balmy windiness of fall.  I saw someone dressed all in black, careening down a dark street on a bike, screaming from blocks away.  My residual street smarts caused me to think, “Maybe I should be nervous.”  But then I thought, “Naah…I probably know him.” 

Sure enough, he’s one of the little nuggets who was most sympathetic to today’s drama.  I had been all set to buckle down and write a grant that’s due tomorrow when I realize that someone nabbed my laptop yesterday.  Of course, I flipped my lid.  But then I started sleuthing. 

I went over to a patrol car to try to file a report and the crazy neighborhood crack head lady was talking his ear off and then trying to bum smokes from me.  The cop asked me if it was a Gateway and I said that I didn’t actually know because I had just gotten the computer after a virus killed another and hadn’t yet used it.  He gestured to a computer case sitting shotgun but that wasn’t it.  Then he took off because he got called to a “bloody incident” that also factors into my day pretty prominently but I can’t get into it here. 

So I spent the day interrogating teenagers.  I came up with quite a bit of information about this mystery kid that was around during the period of time in question.  One girl said that he stared at her an had a “sinister laugh.”  Another kid’s mom escorted him over to talk to me. 

I then chatted with various older youth who I knew weren’t there at the time and tried to confirm where people will try to get rid of stolen electronics.  I pretty much know that it gets sold on the street (the kid even took the power cord!) and in fact, have turned down offers to buy iPhones outside my work.  Tonight I had a good laugh with the kid who tried to sell one to me a couple of weeks ago.

I was horrified to think my favorite (albeit tremendously sketchy and troubled) kid had taken it when I found out he had been there.  But another kid said that he had come in with just a T-shirt and not his customary ginormous black hoodie.  Plus, he told me when I called him: “How could I do that to you after all you’ve done for me?  Besides, I told you I stopped robbing people.”

Lesson #1 for the day: The Code of Sticky Finger Ethics make even those who frequently jump people for electronics get indignant when I get robbed.

Lesson #2: I really, really want to be a PI.

Lesson #3: Never trust the shady kid with the sinister laugh.

If I have time tomorrow between bouts of frantic grantwriting, I may check out a nearby pawn shop or two.

Knowledge is Power in Payne Park

August 17, 2008 at 11:04 pm | Posted in Life in the US, The Bucket, Working | 3 Comments

What a flippin’ fantastic day!  After only a month of chaotic, hurried planning (for those of you who don’t know about planning events, people usually spend 6 to 8 months planning a block party), we managed to pull it off.  “Knowledge is Power” was to commemorate those who have been killed violently in Pawtucket and CF and bring the neighborhood together in a nonviolent, positive setting. 

There were about 500 people and miraculously enough food to feed them all!  The Cape Verdean ladies ran a kick-butt kitchen and I am still in awe of them.  Spoken word, hip hop music, two dance groups (CV Dream Team and Victorious from Brockton), a frickin’ adorable seven-year-old musician with dreads, and a candlelight vigil for those who are gone.

I am blown away by how peaceful, happy, and helpful everyone was.  No fights, no beef, nothing.  Clean-up was a dream, and I was amazed to see all our kids pitching in.  The same guys who sit in the park, sell drugs, and mouth off to the cops were the ones with trash bags picking up plates and water bottles and moving tables inside. 

Three of the cutest booty-shakers ever

Three of the cutest booty-shakers ever


Food line

Food line


The Grill Master (400 burgers and 400 hotdogs)

The Grill Master (400 burgers and 400 hotdogs)


Hanging Out

Hanging Out


Dakarai Dancing

Dakarai Dancing


Victorious from Brockton

Victorious from Brockton

Alvaro, Paris, Melissa, and Jenny

Alvaro, Paris, Melissa, and Jenny

In Memory (Hell Boi Throwing Signs)

In Memory



You can't look hard while drinking a fruit punch juice box

Trying to look hard with a juice box


Dancing with the lil' one

Dancing with the lil' one


Candlelight Vigil

Candlelight Vigil

What Do I Do All Day?

July 30, 2008 at 12:12 pm | Posted in The Bucket, Working | 1 Comment

This is what I do all day. 

And practice posting photos.

Our "front porch"

Our "front porch"


Melissa and Melissa (aka Gabacha)

Melissa and Melissa (aka Gabacha)

My Three Constant Sidekicks

My Three Constant Sidekicks

Intense Case Management Just Happened Here (with Your Highness)

Intense Case Management Just Happened Here (with Your Highness)

While I May Think This is My Desk, It's Actually Not

While I May Think This is My Desk, It's Actually Not

All Over the Place

July 10, 2008 at 7:04 pm | Posted in The Bucket, Working | 1 Comment

Things kids have brought up with me today:

  • Lil’ Wayne
  • bisexuality
  • drive by shootings
  • smoking blunts
  • smoking blunts before a GED test
  • smoking blunts with bullet fragments in your lungs
  • Lil’ Wayne
  • getting “spanked” at pool
  • getting off home confinement
  • probation officers
  • why Cape Verdeans rock
  • the high one gets from stealing
  • deadbeat dads
  • why white people can’t dance
  • stolen freezer pops
  • Etch a Sketch masterpieces
  • why you should marry someone 20 years younger than you
  • You Tube videos
  • why I shouldn’t be able to use the phrase “I haven’t seen you in a minute”
  • a murderer’s arraignment
  • whose gun it was
  • someone’s new job
  • if Lil’ Wayne is attractive or not
  • nappy ‘fros
  • metal ‘fro picks vs. plastic ones
  • getting a bouncy house for free
  • if going into a dunk tank constitutes community service hours
  • who’s got a worse short term memory, me or Hurricane
  • group homes
  • why talking about your feelings is hard
  • why I am beast

Yes, I do talk about and listen to Lil’ Wayne daily.

And I only worked eight hours today.

Absurd Conversations #2,740 and #2,741

June 29, 2008 at 3:53 pm | Posted in The Bucket, Working | 1 Comment

Michael showed up at work to tell me that he hadn’t registered for summer school because he was afraid to get in trouble with his parents.  The registration period was about to be over in an hour and if he didn’t register that day then he’d probably have to stay back a year.  Only problem was that he hadn’t asked his parents for the money to pay for it and I was doubtful that they’d let him register without paying.

We jumped into my car to go down to the school department office where we planned to convince them to let him register without paying. 

While in the car:

Michael: Just tell them that you’re my mom.

Gabacha: Um, Michael…you’re black.

Michael: Well, say I’m adopted.  Or I play out in the sun a lot.

Gabacha: I don’t think so.

He was able to register with no problem (shocking to me, considering the fact that the Pawtucket School Department seems to find joy in setting up roadblocks), but not before we managed to make everyone in line snicker…

Michael: So you’re gonna say you’re my mom, right?

Gabacha: Didn’t we already have this conversation? Nobody will believe you.

Michael: I’m your adopted black kid, remember?


The next day, Jeff is in the kitchen finishing off some ice cream and lamenting the fact that he had no milk to drink with it.

This is the conversation we had:

Gabacha: I’ve got some soy milk you can have.  It’s vanilla flavored.

Jeff: Are you racist?

Gabacha: Um, what?

Jeff: You must be racist.  Everyone knows black people don’t drink soy milk.

Gabacha: What’s wrong with soy milk?

Jeff: Nothing’s wrong with it.  It’s just a white person’s drink.

Gabacha: No shit.  I had no idea.

Jeff: Well, now you know. 

Coworker: Well, I don’t think it’s a white person thing, it’s more of a privilege thing.


Man, fifteen year olds are fun.


Not Gonna Be the Summer of Love

June 3, 2008 at 11:37 am | Posted in The Bucket, Working | 8 Comments

Yet another dreaded text message arrived last night.  There was a drive-by just outside of work at 8:30 pm and a kid was shot in the back while running away. 

They hadn’t released the name of the youth, but Channel 12 came over to the center to talk to us.  Of course, I booked it, but not before getting the name of the youth.  It was Silent Bob.  He’s been coming here a couple of times a week with a dance group for over a year.  He was practically mute for months and months but just recently had been warming up to us.  I’d start getting little smiles from under his black hood and we’d progressed to actual greetings.

Apparently he’s in stable critical condition at the hospital. 

Despite the fact that this happened directly outside of work and that this kid and all his boys were frequent visitors and clients, I don’t particularly fear for my safety.  The only thing that concerns me is that the people with guns who want to use them on the boys of Woodlawn aren’t exactly sharpshooters.  While they might have a specific target in mind, it’s doubtful that they have the expertise with firearms to actually hit the target. 

I fear that this is only the beginning. 

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